Dalit President Ram Nath Kovind, does it matter?

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The activist dismisses the possibility of any change in the social or political status of the Dalits in India or reduction in hate crimes against them even with the election of right-wing oriented Shri Ram Nath Kovind as the President of India.

WWith a Dalit in Rashtrapati Bhavan, neither the ‘supremacist’ mindset of the Brahmin upper class will change nor the caste-based atrocities against the Dalit Samaj would end.

When the BJP president Amit Shah while announcing his party’s presidential choice said that Ram Nath Kovind- a Dalit had worked for Dalits and poor, his target was clear -luring and wooing the large Dalit and down-trodden vote bank for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Notorious for its sinister anti-minority and anti-Dalit party stance with a clear focus on a Brahmin-dominated monolithic India, the ultra right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party is changing colors faster than a chameleon with the aim to win over the country’s 16.6 percent politically significant Scheduled Caste population, particularly as Mayawati and other such leaders lose ground in many states across the country.

Not lagging behind in competitive politics, the Congress led UPA’s  choice Dalit Meira Kumar garnered sizeable votes but the writing was on the wall given the opposition numbers.  Their Dalit card was sure to fail but interestingly brought the Dalit political discourse back into circulation.

We have no misgivings or illusion that Ram Nath Kovind occupying top post will end caste-based discrimination, hatred and atrocities against Dalits unleashed by cow vigilantes, pseudo-patriots and so-called upper caste people. Nor it would generate their genuine political empowerment. It will probably remain only the tale of how he rose from a mud hut to the ramparts of the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Lutyens’ Delhi.

The Sikh doctrine is based on a casteless and classless society though practically today we are far away from the precept. Certain Institutions like the Guru ka langar stand testimony to our neutrality and social acceptance of equality and will never go the Manusmriti way.

We have no misgivings or illusion that Ram Nath Kovind occupying top post will end caste-based discrimination, hatred and atrocities against Dalits unleashed by cow vigilantes, pseudo-patriots and so-called upper caste people. Nor it would generate their genuine political empowerment. It will probably remain only the tale of how he rose from a mud hut to the ramparts of the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Lutyens’ Delhi.

Ram Nath Kovind president

Who is to be vigilant from the modern day vigilantes? The Dalits themselves. The Dalits need to be cautioned. They should not be carried away or swayed by BJP’s Dalit President. Nothing would change vis-a-vis the plight of the Dalits, who are facing institutional discrimination and a worst kind of violence. Kovind’s presidency won’t end this. Earlier too we had KR Narayanan as India’s first Dalit President, and it too did it change anything for the Dalits?

In a broader context, one should not overlook that the post of the President of India is ceremonial. Kovind may be a nice political person. May be, because nicety and RSS ideology which now runs in his veins, do not go together.

Picking a person from a minority or Dalit community and then portraying him or her as a sole representative of that particular community has always been a grand design of both the Congress and the BJP. Ironically, in many such cases such “obliged” party converts, in order to prove their loyalty, end-up serving their own former masters rather than being true to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and honouring the yearnings of their communities or regional identities.

Picking a person from a minority or Dalit community and then portraying him or her as a sole representative of that particular community has always been a grand design of both the Congress and the BJP. Ironically, in many such cases such “obliged” party converts, in order to prove their loyalty, end-up serving their own former masters rather than being true to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and honouring the yearnings of their communities or regional identities.

Sikhs witnessed two worst massacres in June and November 1984 when the President of the India was a Sikh face. Hundreds of Sikhs were killed in June by the army and thousands were butchered in the capital of India in November by frenzied mobs engineered by the ruling Congress. Gaini Zail Singh and Dr Manmohan Singh despite reaching the top constitutional and executive posts respectively could not end the constitutional injustices to the Sikh people. The constitution still continues to deny Sikhs their distinct religious status and identity.  They never represented the Sikh people per se.

Similarly, shortly after the Gujarat pogrom in Feb 2002, the BJP nominated a Muslim face Abdul APJ Kalam for the country’s top constitutional post. Did the suave and able Kalam manage to deliver any justice to victims of Gujarat massacre or manage to end the the discrimination faced by his own aggrieved community despite his good reputation and work? Sadly, the answer is a big no.

The crux of the matter is that to create a respectable place for them in the existing polity driven by caste and religious vote banks, Dalits will have to fight against all odds, injustices, discriminations and inequality on their own strength, while maintaining relations and bonds with other oppressed minorities and communities.

As regards a Dalit President in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, does it matter? It is nothing but tokenism.

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